TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2021
One part of "Too Big to Care:" Last night, Anderson Cooper spent an hour speaking with Barack Obama. They discussed the needs of the many good, decent kids who may grow up in difficult situations and circumstances.
At one point, Obama spoke with some young men from My Brother's Keeper, a mentoring program he started when he was still in the White House.
The young men in question are fathers now. Here's part of what was said:
OBAMA (6/7/21): Other than changing diapers, how has [being a father] changed your perspective? And how do you think about it? Because, look, meeting the president, you know, that's cool. But it's not life-changing in the same way that being a parent is.
JAMES ADAMS: Before having a daughter, like, I was able to make stupid decisions. But now that I have a daughter, I have to think about her. I have to think about her mother, her sister because now I'm the man of the house.
And everything that I do is pretty much revolved around her. So I want to be that father that's always there. I want to be the one that you come home from school to, that—that brightens up your day. Anything that you need, you can always come to me.
I didn't have that growing up. I didn't have a father. Like, it was, one point in time, I didn't see my father for, like, ten years.
ADAMS: So I want to be there for her, through everything.
OBAMA: Fantastic. How about you, Lazarus?
LAZARUS DANIELS: Being a father is—is amazing to me. My baby girl got a great big smile, full of energy, full of life, full of joy.
I was fortunate to have my father and mother together. One thing [mentoring] helped me out with was being able to speak on things. Because I wasn't able to talk to my father, because he was strictly business.
OBAMA: He was old school?
DANIELS: Old school all the way. I didn't understand that. I just wanted to talk to him and let him know, like, I need to talk to you. I've seen so much that my dad didn't even know I saw.
I think I was, like, seven when a—a grown man shot at me. You know what I'm saying? It's so much that you see daily, so much that you see daily, nonstop, that you, as a man, are not supposed to feel.
When Lazarus Daniels was seven years old, a grown man shot at him. For these young men, as for many young people in many communities, life when they were growing up "ain't been no golden stair."
For these young men, as for many young people, they may not have gotten all the help they needed at the start of life.
During the course of the hour, Obama pointed to something we've long marveled at here in Baltimore. He pointed to the moral goodness of so many young people who grew up in ways which were less than perfectly resourced.
"What you just heard was young black men all across this country," Obama said. "That's who they are. It's not the stereotypes we see on television."
Obama spoke of the circumstances which may hold children back. At one point, Cooper offered a somewhat remarkable statement.
To our ear, what he said was truly striking. He himself didn't seem to know how striking his admission was:
COOPER: But also, how stacked the deck is against so many people in our society, from even before they are born!
COOPER: I mean, I heard—I was reading the speech you gave a while back. A figure I had never heard before, that by the age of 3, if you grew up in a low-income family, you've heard 30 million fewer words than a 3-year-old child in a well-off family.
OBAMA: Which means by the time you show up in first grade, you are already significantly behind. Now the good news is it turns out, as you're learning as a parent, kids are amazingly resilient and they can catch up. But it also means that we have to make investments to ensure that they catch up.
Cooper is a major, high-end journalist. Until quite recently, he had never heard of the "30 million fewer words!"
We thought that was a striking admission, but also that it was instructive. Here's why:
The "30 million word gap (by age 3)" thesis has been around since Risley and Hart published their book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, all the way back in 1995.
The thesis has been offered as an explanation for large "achievement gaps" which obtain in our public schools. The thesis has been widely discussed and debated.
It formed the basis for the Clinton Foundation's "Too Small to Fail" initiative, an initiative which formed part of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. (During that campaign, the initiative was rarely discussed, whether by the national press corps or by the candidate herself.)
"The 30 Million Word Gap" has long been offered as one explanation for our academic achievement gaps. It posits a fixable problem in child rearing—a problem which could be addressed, even solved.
The theory has been challenged; it has also been defended. But the fact that Cooper had never even heard of this—well, it's all part of a journalistic phenomenon referred to by our youthful analysts as "Too Big to Care."
Kids who are born to high-literacy parents tend to have a major leg up in school. Kids who are born to low-literacy parents tend to be substantially "behind," even before they enter school—allegedly, by the time they're just three years old!
As we've often noted, our press corps spends little time on such dullsville topics. Simply put, our news orgs don't seem to care.
In fairness, they may not realize that they don't care; they may not intend not to care. But over the past several decades, they've cared about earth tones and emails a lot. No matter where you look on the political spectrum, they haven't seemed to care about dullsville topics like this.
Anderson Cooper had never heard of the 30 Million Word Gap! We're not saying that Cooper's alone in that lack of awareness, but as part of the journalistic syndrome in question, he didn't seem to realize how strange it might be to hear a top journalist say that.
For extra credit only: The 30 Million Word Gap thesis isn't exactly a secret. You can Google it up for yourselves. We finally realized, some years back, that it's a total waste of time to try to start such discussions.
Nobody cares about topics like this. They care about earth tones and emails. And also, of course, oral sex!
(Was Obama too skinny to get elected? Back in 2008, one scribe even cared about that!)